[Infographic] How to create your urban garden?
For such a simple plant, grass is amazingly popular when it comes to choosing the right backdrop for TV commercials, photo-shoots, house-for-sale brochures, etc. And almost always the photogenic lawn in question has stripes (or, failing that, a perfect light covering of morning dew).
In fact, our eyes (and our consumer minds) are being deceived. It’s the combination of the pattern – the stripes – and the universal and soothing green colour that makes us admire everything else in the same photo. A clever trick, eh?
As a lawn specialist, what I’m interested is not just a brief moment captured on camera, but a healthy lawn all year round. And so I just want to make sure that when you next mow, you’re doing it for the right reasons. After all, it’s good to aspire to the photogenic backdrop to your own garden. But it’s even better to know that that backdrop is in fact a healthy and superbly cared for piece of living greenery.
So, mowing – it’s not complicated, but many people stick devotedly to the same simple ‘rules’. And they’re not necessarily the right rules. Let’s take a look.
Most mowing advice comes down to this: “Mow regularly, not too short, and remember to sharpen the blade once a year.” And that’s pretty much that.
But that’s also pretty useless advice. ‘Regularly’ – how often? ‘Not too short’ – what height? And don’t get me started on the once-a-year blade sharpening (I’ll get to that in a moment anyway…).
Here are the correct rules for safe and sensible mowing.
Regularity: Your aim in mowing is to maintain a healthy but manageable grass-height. So frequency of mowing is governed by how fast it is growing. Mid-growing season you can expect to cut at least once a week. Mid-winter, if it’s a mild one, you may be cutting once a month. Yes that’s right – don’t lock the mower away for the winter months, not if the grass is still growing, however slowly that may be.
Length/height: There’s a rule of thumb people quote – I’ve used it myself many times – never cut more than one-third of the current length. But this actually comes from the sports turf world and isn’t actually very helpful to gardeners – how often do you want to go around with your ruler before cutting?
Instead try to adapt the height to the time of year and the prevailing conditions. When the grass is growing well you can cut lower (but always beware), but in prolonged dry periods you will need to raise the cutter to prevent stressing the grass.
There are other guides – for example, when using a rotary mower I never cut below 25mm. Check which mower setting to use in your manual, but it is important to remember that a rotary cannot deliver a finer cut any shorter than this without probably causing stress and damage.
Also remember to adjust the mowing height to compensate for lumps and bumps in the ground. Don’t cut short enough for the low spots to be short enough, whilst scalping those dreaded high spots. Better still, add ‘ground-leveling’ to your To-Do list!
Blade sharpening: As with sewing or hair-cutting scissors, you get the best result from a sharp blade, and a progressively poor result each subsequent cut until you sharpen it again.
Depending on your mower, sharpening the blade needn’t be difficult. Alternatively, buy a spare blade and swap this over during the season. I actually sharpen my blade every two to four weeks. Any less and I know my mower will be ripping and tearing the grass. A stressed plant during the warm season can take a while to fully recover, so it’s essential you don’t become one of the reasons why your lawn isn’t looking and feeling great.
So, a lot of good mowing comes down to common sense and learning to adapt to the conditions. But please also remember this; mowing is the finishing touch to a sensible lawn program – and that’s not difficult or time-consuming. Read my book, Modern Lawn Care, to find out how.
David Hedges-Gower is the UK’s leading lawn expert and has more than 36 years of lawn and turf experience. Professional grounds people, landscape specialists, commercial property developers and leisure gardeners – have benefited from David’s enthusiasm and knowledge.
David is a National Trust advisor and was formerly advisor to Homebase, he is a regular on BBC Radio and a favourite on the national horticultural lecture circuit.
David’s fantastic new book on Modern Lawn Care extends his love for and knowledge of the topic. This is the first comprehensive and authoritative guide to lawn care for over 40 years!
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